Tips from the Editor – Source of Style

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editor1aBy Kelly Laycock

Now, I know I’m supposed to be finishing up my discussion of Abbreviation Clarification (Part 2) this week, and I really do want to look more closely at the popular style conventions for abbreviations. But as I started writing, I realized I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about style in general first, specifically relating to the legal profession.

I see style as a complex and ever-changing beast, moving first in one direction and then back again, much like a “Bird Ballet”. As with all style conventions, people often feel very strongly one way or another for no discernible reason (just look at my most popular post to see what I mean!). This ebb and flow and constant change is reflected in the publishing world to some extent, where I’ve found it difficult to find any really “standard” Canadian style guides, legal or otherwise. But more on that in a moment.

The important thing to remember about style conventions is that there is no wrong, there is only preference. Style can change very quickly to match trends in popular culture, or it can stay stable over long periods of time. It can be played with depending on the content. This differs from rules of grammar, which come from language use over time and change very slowly, if at all.    

Because style is so variable, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of using a style guide. Pick a well-known guide (I list a few in this post) and follow it. The real emphasis needs to be on consistency. Where there is a difference of opinion, create a house style guide that explains your preference in those cases, but make sure you have some good reasons for doing so that don’t revolve around the argument “Because that is what I was taught in school”. I often find I choose a particular style for a very good reason only to come across an important exception that blows that choice out of the water. This is where the tried-and-true guides come in. You may not agree with everything they say, but you can bet they have well-informed reasoning for it. Be clear to your audience about which published guide you use as your main source of style.

My preferred guide for any style issue is Chicago Manual of Style, and for good reason: its history spans more than a century and its style choices come from a board of publishing professionals who know their stuff. If you don’t believe me, just check out any university or publishing list of resources; Chicago is on every one. For a good discussion about different conventions, as always, see Amy Einsohn’s The Copyeditor’s Handbook. Both of these guides represent the standard in American publishing.

Canadian style in general is a little trickier to pin down, with no hard and fast guide that everyone follows. It tends to be a combination of styles from both British and American sources, but conventions vary from subject to subject, even place to place.

Academic guides that show up on most Canadian university resource lists include APA (American Psychological Association) and MLA (Modern Language Association) for certain departments, although most Canadian universities also have their own published style guide. School is often our first encounter with any sort of style guide, so these styles tend to crop up in lots of places well after our academic careers. The Government of Canada suggests a few guides, including The Canadian Style (from the Translation Bureau) and Industry Canada’s Style Guide. Finally, the Canadian Press offers up their Stylebook for journalists and broadcasters. Phew. So many choices, and the differences are sometimes hard to recognize without careful scrutiny. It is imperative to have a reference copy available when you need it, but you also have to be savvy to the types of style issues that come up. Check the table of contents for a good idea of what to watch for (I can guarantee any style guide worth its weight will include a section on abbreviations). Complacency results in inconsistency, which kills the effectiveness of any great style guide.

And for lawyers? Well, I’ve had a little difficulty finding good resources for such a thing. I did stumble upon an article written for the State Bar of Wisconsin’s publication Wisconsin Lawyer. It is clumsily entitled “Legal Writing: Style Books, Web Sites, and Podcasts: A Lawyer’s Guide to the Guides” (wow!), but it did list some American style guides along with commentary about each one. For example, it mentions A Form and Style Manual for Lawyers (Ian Gallacher), The Legal Writing Handbook: Analysis, Research & Writing (Laurel Currie Oates & Anne Enquist), and The Redbook (Bryan A. Garner). I’m not personally familiar with any of them, but they would be worth a look.

While these few titles are specific to questions of style, you can find numerous titles on the art of legal writing in general. They are aimed more at the specifics of writing different types of arguments or documents, or highlighting aspects of the popular “Plain Language” movement in legal writing. They often shed some light on the most common errors in punctuation and grammar, touching on misused words and such, but say little in terms of promoting any specific style.

The Canadian legal publishing world is a little shy in this regard. In fact I came across only one lonely title. It’s new from Carswell, so we don’t have it in the Law Society Library yet, but I’m hoping to get my hands on it soon to do a review for you. It’s called Canadian Guide to Legal Style from Queen’s Law Journal. Now, I don’t want to geek out on you, but I’m excited to read it and see how it measures up to the conventions I’ve become familiar with here in Saskatchewan. Just take a look at the Table of Contents. I mean, seriously, what’s not to geek out about?


Note: If you find this all a little tedious, hire a professional copyeditor. This is our job. And for most of us, it is our passion. We help catch errors and impose consistency in everything we do. Copyeditors are the unsung heroes of the editorial process. The irony is, a good copyeditor knows that his or her work is done well when nobody notices!



Einsohn, Amy. The Copyeditor’s Handbook, 3rd ed (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011)

Gallacher, Ian. A Form and Style Manual for Lawyers (Durnham, NC: Carolina Academic Press 2005)

Garner, Bryan A. The Redbook: A Manual on Legal Style, 3rd ed (St. Paul, MN: West Academic Publishing 2013)

Government of Canada. The Canadian Style (Translation Bureau), online:

———Industry Canada Style Guides (Industry Canada), online:

Koch Hayford, Jill. “Legal Writing: Style Books, Web Sites, and Podcasts: A Lawyer’s Guide to the Guides” in Wisconsin Lawyer, online:

McCarten, James, ed. The Canadian Press Stylebook, 17th ed (Toronto: Canadian Press, 2013)

Oates, Laurel Currie & Anne Enquist. The Legal Writing Handbook: Analysis, Research and Writing, 6th ed (Wolters Kluwer, 2014)

Queen’s Law Journal. Canadian Guide to Legal Style (Toronto: Carswell, 2014)

University of Chicago Press. The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th ed (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2010)


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